Why Knowledge Checks are Measuring the Wrong Thing

When I taught middle school math, tests were used to assess knowledge comprehension and some application with word problems and a few complex questions requiring logic proofs. Results were captured via a score; a metric if you will as to how well you answered the questions and very appropriate in academia.

In our quest for training evaluation metrics, we have borrowed the idea of testing someone’s knowledge as a measure of effectiveness. This implies that a corporate classroom mirrors an educational classroom and testing means the same thing – a measure of knowledge comprehension. However, professors, colleges, universities and academic institutions are not held to the same results oriented standard. In the business world, results need to be performance oriented, not knowledge gained.

So why are we still using tests?

Call it a quiz, a knowledge check or any other name it is still assessing some form of knowledge comprehension. In training effectiveness parlance, it is also known as a level 2 evaluation. Having the knowledge is no guarantee that it will be used correctly back on the job. Two very common situations occur in the life science arena where “the quiz” and knowledge checks are heavily used: Annual GMP Refresher and Read & Understand Approach for SOPs.

Life sciences companies are required by law to conduct annual regulations training (GMP Refreshers) so as to remain current. To address the training effectiveness challenge, a quiz / questionnaire / knowledge assessment (KA) is added to the event. But what is the KA measuring? Is it mapped to the course /session objectives or are the questions so general that they can be answered correctly without having to attend the sessions? Or worse yet, are the questions being recycled from year to year / event-to-event? What does it mean for the employee to pass the knowledge check or receive 80% or better? When does s/he learn of the results? In most sessions, there is no more time left to debrief the answers. This is a lost opportunity to leverage feedback into a learning activity. How do employees know if they are leaving the session with the “correct information”?

The other common practice is to include a 5 multiple choice as a knowledge check for Read & Understood (R & U) SOPs especially for revisions. What does it mean if employees get all 5 questions right? That they will not make a mistake? That the R & U method of SOP training is effective? The search function in most e-doc systems is really good at finding the answers. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they read the entire procedure and retained the information correctly. What does it mean for the organization if human errors and deviations from procedures are still occurring? Does it really mean the training is ineffective?

What should we be measuring?

The conditions under which employees are expected to perform need to be the same conditions under which we “test” them. So it makes sense to train ‘em under those same conditions as well. What do you want/need your employees (learners) to do after the instruction is finished? What do you want them to remember and use from the instruction in the heat of their work moments? Both the design and assessment need to mirror these expectations. And that means developing objectives that guide the instruction and form the basis of the assessment. (See Performance Objectives are not the same as Learning Objectives.)

So ask yourself, when in their day to day activities will employees need to use this GMP concept? Or, where in the employees’ workflow will this procedure change need to be applied? Isn’t this what we are training them for? Your knowledge checks need to ensure that employees have the knowledge, confidence and capability to perform as trained. It’s time to re-think what knowledge checks are supposed to do for you. – VB

Need to write better Knowledge Check questions?  Need to advise peers and colleagues on the Do’s and Don’ts for writing test questions?

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